Hank Marvin

Hank Brian Marvin was born as Brian Robson Rankin on 28 October 1941, in Newcastle upon Tyne, England. During his childhood he learned to play banjo and piano, but decided to drop the banjo in favor of the guitar after having heard one of Buddy Holly’s songs on the radio (and also adopted Holly style dark-rimed glasses). He is one of the few non-American guitarists of this gallery, because the great majority of the early legendary players of the Stratocaster guitars were American musicians. This phenomenon has two main causes. First, rock ’n’ roll was created on the American side of the Atlantic. Second, there was an embargo on U.S. products imported into the United Kingdom through much of the 1950s that deprived British musicians of American-made electric guitars. Just before the lift of this ban in 1960, Hank Marvin acquired from singer Cliff Richard, whom Marvin played with in the Shadows, a guitar that would become famous as the first Stratocaster owned by an English guitarist. 

Marvin’s acquisition of the Strat was the result of a now-famous fortuitous error. As a big fan of James Burton’s work with Ricky Nelson, Marvin discovered that Burton played a Fender but didn’t know precisely what model. While scanning a catalogue in 1959, Marvin spotted a red Stratocaster with goldplated hardware. “I decided that had to be the model he played,” Marvin told in a 1994 interview for Teletext, “because it was the most expensive one, and I figured James Burton must play the top model.” Bear in mind that American rock ’n’ rollers were considered near-mythical creatures at the time, so it was logic to assume that they used only the best instruments. An upcoming trip that Cliff Richard was making to the United States gave to Marvin the possibility to buy a guitar just like the one in the catalogue. Weeks later Richard came back with the famous red Strat. Later on, Marvin discovered that James Burton in fact played a Telecaster, but it didn’t matter any more at that point, the Strat was the guitar for him.

Before these facts happened, Marvin was already very popular thanks to a few early instrumental hits with the Shadows, but with red Strat in hand the slender, bespectacled guitarist forged a more distinctive identity on both UK and USA and became one of the most influential early British rock ’n’ rollers. The Stratocaster’s bright, well-defined sound, and its versatile vibrato system in particular, became a major part of Marvin’s distinctive and instantly recognisable style, characterised by a fluid use of the Strat's vibrato bar. He used it in almost every song he played, applying it to subtle tremulous wiggles and deeper bends that evoked a rich, atmospheric tone through the tape echo unit placed between the guitar and a Vox AC15 amplifier (later an AC30). This sound compensated for the lack of vocal content in much of his music. This setup generated a sound that greatly influenced Pete Townshend, Mark Knopfler, and even Frank Zappa.

Together with Cliff Richard and the Shadows and his new Strat, Marvin reached the forefront of sixty-nine British Top 40 chart singles, including twelve No. 1 hits. The most groundbreaking songs, among which we must mention the classic “Apache”, were composed with his ’59 Stratocaster. Marvin’s original ’59 Stratocaster now belongs to the Shadows bandmate Bruce Welch, but Hank has remained faithful to Strats, whilst occasionally playing a Burns guitar, throughout his career.

Next player: John Mayer